Second Sunday of Great Lent
Saint Gregory Palamas and the healing of the paralytic borne of four.
The answer to the question: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Mark 2:1-12 John 1:43-51
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Today, brothers and sisters, is ANOTHER Sunday of Orthodoxy. Last week we had one which is proclaimed to be the “Sunday of Orthodoxy” or the “Triumph of Orthodoxy”, but today is also a Sunday of Orthodoxy, shall we say, a Synaxis of Orthodoxy.
For various feasts we have a Synaxis right afterwards. For instance, after the Baptism of Christ is the Synaxis of Saint John the Baptist. It means gathering, and it means the people that were involved in that feast are then celebrated. The Synaxis of the Theotokos, is after the Nativity of the Savior. I told you before that the Sunday of All Saints is like a Synaxis of Pascha because, because of Pascha, we can BECOME saints.
And this also is like a Synaxis of Orthodoxy, a gathering together of those that have realized what was promised last week.
There was a promise made. Did you hear it? It’s a very important promise. It’s one that you must remember again and again. Because if you’re anything like me, you get discouraged about things, either about the way things are in the world or about you.
Nathaniel says: “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” And Philip says: “Come and see.”
I tell you, the answer to that question is in every service, is in every gospel, and should be in every day that you live.
There are two things to that answer. One is that you MUST DO something, and the other is that you must EXPECT. Come and see if anything good can come out of Nazareth.
Now, we know that Nazareth is not just a place. It also signifies the human condition, the human heart. Can anything good come out of our hearts? Come and see.
And today we see another part to the answer. Really, there’s no scripture, and no particular sermon, and no particular prayer that can describe this answer because ALL of the things describe the answer.
Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Come and see,
by every day that you live,
by everything that you do,
by the Grace of God filling you and helping you in every way, sometimes in just tiny ways that you don’t even know, you will be able to see.
And today we see what can really happen to human nature. Saint Gregory Palamas taught it. It was not an innovative teaching. It is what we have always believed, and that is that God can be SEEN by man, and we can BE in the presence of God. We can SEE His energies. We can BE with Him. We can be JOINED to Him.
Now, actually not everybody that says they are Christian believes this. There was a controversy with Varlaam, who was a Latinizing monk. I believe he still at least considered himself to be Orthodox, but his doctrine was far from Orthodox because there’s a lot of complicated things; a lot of learned treatises that were written about this, very complicated things, to be honest with you.
Here is the upshot. Varlaam did not understand the Incarnation.
He did not understand the affect that the Incarnation can have upon man. That’s really what happened, and that’s the way a lot of people are that call themselves Christian. They do not understand what the Incarnation can do. Jesus Christ is God AND man, perfectly both, and therefore He made mankind, human nature, perfectly capable of being united to God. I don’t think most people understand that. And we don’t live like that. That was the whole controversy, really.
Now, there is all kinds of technical terms: Created grace and all kinds of stuff that’s really interesting. But the upshot is, we can be perfectly united to God, but we have to continue to answer this question: Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?
Varlaam didn’t believe it. He thought salvation was basically obeying rules and things like that, much like the Jews.
And most people don’t understand it, because it’s too fantastic to believe that our nature, with all the things in it, with all that stuff that goes around in our heart, all that darkness and all that anger and all that stirring up of passions that is in us, that can happen in the blink of an eye, even if we don’t want it to happen, that all of that can be perfected and we can be in the presence of God and not be ashamed.
Now, I think a lot of people that say they’re Christian believe intellectually that, yes, we can be with God in the next life and not be ashamed. But they don’t understand that it’s happening right now, at this moment, in each one of our lives. And it is happening if we answer this question: Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?
We must come and see, and we must have expectation. But then there are things that must be supplied, by us and by God, in order for us to have the full understanding.
Dogmatically, we must believe what is true: Christ is God; Christ is man. The Holy Spirit abides in us. We must understand the ramifications of the Resurrection, of the Ascension, of the sending of the Holy Spirit. We must have true belief.
Also, there are commands and many of them in Scripture, and we are to obey them. Of course, “Come and see” is really a command.
Today we have a command: Rise, take up thy bed and walk. And here is another aspect to our answer. The Lord will heal us, but then we have to GET UP, and we have to walk. That’s what is really the summation of, the importance of this miracle. The man was healed of his sins and of his physical infirmity, but it would mean nothing if he didn’t obey the Lord and GET UP AND WALK. His getting up and walking to his own home signifies obedience to all the commandments.
We were built, made by God, for perfection. But we cannot attain perfection by not obeying the commands which the perfect will do. So a big part of this answer — can anything good come out of your heart, can you become completely changed — is obey God. Do the things He tells you to do.
Next week we will have another command. It’s actually not couched as a command. It’s couched as: “If any man will.”, “If you want to.” But really, if we don’t do it, we won’t have perfection: “If any man will, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.”
So now we have another aspect of this answer to the question: Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Not only must we OBEY God, but we must obtain the wisdom to see that there are things that are worthwhile and things that are worthless. That’s what taking up your cross and denying yourself is: denying yourself the things that are worthless, the things that don’t matter, and the things that will kill you.
And “take up your cross,” that doesn’t mean suffer according to like if you have a disease or something. That means deny yourself as the Lord did, and struggle for perfection as He in His humanity did.
And also, a big part of the answer to this question is encouragement, consolation, the strengthening of the Lord. Baptism makes us capable to begin.
The paralytic was healed of his sins but also of his physical infirmity, because without the healing from his physical infirmity, he would have remained discouraged. He needed both healings. And the most important, of course, is to be healed from your sins, but he needed the healing from his infirmities so that he would have encouragement.
If you look through these Sundays of Great Lent, they’re all about this, answering the question: Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? I think most people don’t think so. My experience is, my personal experience and my experience as a confessor, is that it’s hard for us to believe that we can really get better, completely better (after all, we have that phrase: “I’m only human, that’s why I make mistakes”.)
Well, Jesus Christ was only human too, right? The human part of Him was only human. And what did He do with His humanity? He perfected it. And that is what we are to do with our humanity.
Of course we can’t do it on our own. We need help. We can see that from the story of the paralytic. He was borne of four. We need the help of the Church, our friends, those who love us because sometimes we’re just not strong enough.
But no matter what, whether receiving much help or not, it takes a whole lot of work. Look what they did to help this man, certainly with his consent. When the paralytic was carried around, it would certainly be painful. He wouldn’t want to go out for no reason. So certainly the paralytic had the desire to be healed. They climbed up on the roof, broke a hole in it and let him down. Imagine the spectacle. Imagine how much that hurt. Imagine how embarrassing it might be.
It takes effort to answer this question. And the paralytic’s illness is really, in microcosm, our whole life. Most of the healings and most of the parables are like this. They describe a short period of time, perhaps a few minutes, perhaps a few hours. But what they are describing is our life.
And our life is, on some levels, by some measures, a short period of time. To us it doesn’t always seem so short. Seems like a long time before things change in us. And so WE are that paralytic that is waiting for healing. And it takes time. It takes effort from ourselves, from others, prayer and fasting and belief and expectation that something good can happen.
I am absolutely convinced as a pastor that our biggest problem is we don’t believe enough in the Resurrection, what the Resurrection can do for us, how much we can be changed.
Next week at the end of the reading about the Cross, the Lord will say: “Some are here who will not see death until they see the Kingdom of God come with power.” That was a reference to what shortly would happen after He spoke these words, which is the Transfiguration of the Lord, and they would be on the mountain, and they would see the Lord as He is, and they would not die. They were terrified; they couldn’t understand it; that understanding would come later. But the fact that it could happen, is a prophecy for us that it WILL happen. But only if we continue to answer the question.
So Lent is really just a period of time that’s more of an intense effort to answer this question: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Nathaniel believed it. The paralytic believed it. And we must believe it. Because there is really no other way to perfection but Jesus Christ. And there is no other way to follow Him except to do as He did, with His help and with our stumbling and getting back up. And it’s a hard road. That’s why so few people follow it.
That’s why it’s so fashionable, it’s always been fashionable, really, to redefine Christianity to something more palatable, to something more approachable, but then it’s not Christianity. Christianity is: We were made to be perfected; we were made for perfection. And even though we know ourselves very well to be imperfect, and our collective experience shows that there are things that we can’t change and they keep going wrong. No matter what our experience tells us, we can be perfected if we continue to answer this question.
So the healing of the paralytic is just another part of the answer to this question: Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Can you become completely changed? How are you going to believe it when you’re not changing a whole lot? A lot of the stuff is still not getting better. How are you going to believe it? Because that’s evidence right before
you that you’re not changing. So how are you? Really, there is no solution except to struggle and to try with God’s grace and to learn to be good. And as you learn to be good, you have confidence that you can become completely good. There’s no other solution. There’s no fast way. There’s no formula. It’s just: Believe God and follow Him just like Nathaniel did, and your confidence will happen. Slowly. Sometimes it will be higher; sometimes it will be lower. But if you’re continually struggling to follow God, then you will become good.
And remember: To the pure all things are pure, and blessed are the pure in heart because they shall see God. So as we become purified, we see God. Saint Gregory knew it, and we know it, but we only know it here in our heads. For it to be known in our heart, we have to go through the process of living and struggling, and then God will fill us, and we will see, and we will be with Him in Paradise, seeing Him as He is and not be ashamed or afraid.
Can anything good come out of Nazareth, brothers and sisters? Come and see. Amen.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.
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